LONDON (Reuters) - Britain on Tuesday endorsed former French Finance Minister Dominique Strauss-Kahn over a former Czech central banker to head the International Monetary Fund in a contest seen as likely to go to the Frenchman.
Strauss-Kahn won the backing in July of the European Union to head the institution once IMF Managing Director Rodrigo Rato steps down in October.
In a move that seemed a direct challenge to Western Europe, which has traditionally appointed the head of the IMF, Russia nominated former Czech Finance Minister Josef Tosovsky for the job amid calls by developing nations to throw the selection process open to candidates from other parts of the world.
Britain had refused to back Strauss-Kahn in July in order to make a point that the selection of a new IMF leader had to be open and transparent.
However, days after a deadline for naming candidates for the job closed on Friday, Britain said Strauss-Kahn was best suited for the job.
“Dominique Strauss-Kahn has extensive experience in international financial issues,” said Alistair Darling, chancellor of the Exchequer.
“I welcome his commitment to engage with the whole membership of the fund to promote global financial stability and economic development and to tackle the reform challenges faced by the fund,” he added in a statement.
A Treasury spokesman said, “The UK believes that Dominique Strauss-Kahn is the candidate who best matches the criteria that the IMF board has established for the job.”
The Treasury said it welcomed the process the IMF had put in place to appoint the next IMF chief and said it strongly believed it should be a template for all future senior appointment at international financial institutions.
“Such appointments should be open to candidates from all regions of the world,” it added.
The job came open in July after the sudden resignation of Rato, who was in the midst of reforming the 63-year-old fund, including changes that would better reflect the rise of countries such as China and India.
Strauss-Kahn has vigorously campaigned among the IMF’s membership for the job, and even the Czech Republic said it favoured the Frenchman over Tosovsky.
The United States has so far kept its distance from the diplomatic manoeuvres to pick Rato’s successor.
In Buenos Aires, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, the front-runner in Argentina’s October 28 presidential elections and wife of the country’s current president, Nestor Kirchner, said she was personally impressed with Strauss-Kahn during a recent visit.
“I was pleasantly surprised and I’m moderately optimistic as far as the possibilities of reforming an organism that is so important as the International Monetary Fund, which for us has a tragic past,” she told business leaders on Tuesday.
Strauss-Kahn, “who visited yesterday, is serious and oriented and I think he understands the impact that the nefarious role the International Monetary Fund played in Argentina and all of Latin America on a social, political and perception level,” she said.
Argentina has not officially endorsed Strauss-Kahn.
Argentina paid off its debt to the IMF last year to free itself from the loan conditions tied to a massive financial package to bail the country out of a 2001 economic crisis and debt default.
The IMF also found itself in the middle of a dispute between private creditors and Kirchner’s government that has refused to repay all of its debts related to the 2001 default.